Housing Bank: ‘Keep the Vineyard as we know it’

Housing Bank MV seeks to keep Islanders on-Island.

Doug Ruskin broke the presentation into segments and screened questions at the end. – Lucas Thors

Members of the proposed Housing Bank MV hosted a forum at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center to describe to the public why they believe the future of the Island relies on providing affordable year-round housing.

West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters moderated the meeting, while members of the Housing Bank MV committee Peter Temple, Doug Ruskin, and Makenzie Brookes broke the presentation into segments and screened questions at the end.

Hundreds of people showed up to ask questions and voice their opinions, including town administrators, selectmen, schoolteachers, and members of the public who have faced the housing tribulations that living in this community presents.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, kicked off the forum by speaking about the current state of housing on Martha’s Vineyard, and how the Massachusetts Legislature can only act after hearing significant support from the entire Island. “We want to take action, but we can only do that if we know that it’s an action that is supported by the entire Vineyard community,” Fernandes said.

“We live in a profoundly unaffordable district,” Fernandes said. “That is because people trying to buy a home here are competing in an international market of homebuyers, a lot of whom have unlimited financial resources.”

Fernandes said there are several components that the Cape and Islands legislative delegation have been working on to address affordable housing. The three central elements he noted regarding housing were zoning, wastewater, and funding.

He explained how an upcoming zoning reform initiative at the state level will allow (and in some cases, require) higher-density zoning in certain areas. “To have higher density, you allow for more units, you allow for smaller spaces for workers, or for seniors who want to downgrade their home,” Fernandes said. “When you think about the really marketable, attractive areas in our community, the majority of them are denser areas.”

Fernandes referred to downtown Oak Bluffs and downtown Nantucket, where there is a much higher population density.

But he said in order to have more housing units, you need to first address the issue of wastewater infrastructure. “One of the things we did as a Cape delegation this session is pass the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund, which has a 2.7 percent excise charge on all short-term rentals,” Fernandes said. “Towns would be able to apply for projects that cost money to that fund.”

This means the Housing Bank would be able to use money from the fund for various projects involving wastewater.

Fernandes said Vineyard towns are able to opt in or out of the protection fund, but if seasonal visitors aren’t paying the excise tax, there are going to be additional property tax increases and abatements put on year-round residents.

“Our water quality is the most important natural resource on the Vineyard,” Fernandes said.

Although only three Island towns are required to pass the proposed Housing Bank at town meeting (and again as a ballot question), Fernandes said it is going to take the entire Island to make it work.

The other piece Fernandes highlighted was the affordability of housing on the Vineyard. He said last session the state passed a $1.8 million bond bill to go toward affordable housing in the state, but that is just “a drop in the bucket” when looking at the housing needs across the commonwealth.

Before leaving to catch his boat, Fernandes pointed to his Island liaison, Kaylea Moore.

He said she is exemplifies the highly experienced and capable person who still can’t afford housing, despite her level of education. “Kaylea is a great example of this housing crisis. She has lived in four different towns trying to find housing, doing the Island shuffle,” Fernandes said. “This is someone who has a master’s degree on-Island and can’t find dependable housing.”

Ruskin took the stage next, and told a story of when he came to the Island in 2001. “You could look in the paper and see the number of year-round rentals available in the classifieds. Today they’re not there,” Ruskin said.

Ruskin said if the housing crisis is not addressed, it could “shred the social and economic sustainability” of Martha’s Vineyard.

Because of the unaffordability of Island housing, Ruskin said many of the nurses, teachers, and tradespeople who support the community are living off-Island and contributing to another economy than the one here. “All these people walk off the boat every morning, then they leave at the end of the day, and they take their income home with them,” Ruskin said. “That’s a lot of money that is not being spent in our economy.”

He said elders are being forced to move off-Island, entry-level positions are being left vacant, and fewer people are applying to be first responders. “So this is now a safety issue,” Ruskin said. “Today we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to affect real change.”

Ruskin reminded the audience of the two warrant articles involved with the Housing Bank.

The first one is to create the bank, and the other proposes its funding source, which would take from the newly expanded short-term rental tax.

Peter Temple gave his presentation after Ruskin, talking about an Islandwide housing plan to create 294 new housing units in five years. To meet this goal, Temple said the Island would have to have an additional $8 million every year.

The next speaker was Makenzie Brookes, who went over the “nuts and bolts” of the warrant articles themselves.

She explained how the Housing Bank was modeled roughly after the Land Bank, and has an Islandwide focus, but local control.

She said the Housing Bank would provide funding for deed-restricted, year-round homes.

This would include the purchase and rehabilitation of existing structures, construction of new rental or homeownership housing, pocket neighborhoods, multiunit infill housing, and other programs to create or preserve year-round housing.

During the question and answer portion of the event, Abigail Higgins of West Tisbury agreed that it is prohibitive for working families to move here with the current cost of housing, but said that it speaks to a larger issue of growth in our small community.

“We are in an environment that is negatively affected by growth,” Higgins said. “Growing the community in a finite entity, which the Island of Martha’s Vineyard is, is ultimately destructive to everything we know here.”

Temple responded to Higgins’ comment, saying the Island population is projected to grow only 12 percent going forward, whereas we were the fastest growing county in the state for the previous 2 decades. “Unfortunately, a large amount of that growth is the elderly population, not young people and adults.”

One large element he mentioned: If there aren’t young people moving here, there will be no one available to care for the increasing elder population

“Home health aides just don’t earn enough money to live here. Even people who work at Windemere are hired from elsewhere, and paid premiums to come work here,” Temple said. “I don’t see that building this housing is going to be the end to the Vineyard as we know it, I see it as being able to keep the Vineyard as we know it.”


  1. I think a better headline would be “Housing bank seeks to hemorrhage money through idealism and mismanagement”
    Listen to the OB and Edg selectman on this one, these guys are full of half truths. We need the housing, but this is not the group to be funding . Vote no.

  2. I Think the only one who would be on board for this smoke and mirror show would be Charles Ponzi if he were still alive.

  3. I am no expert on affordable housing. My husband and I live in a house that was built in 1986. We would not be able to move to the Island now with the current home prices. I know that trailers are not allowed here. If a town owned land that could be used for affordable housing, why not rent the land like the Campground does, and let people put up tiny houses on the land. If the owners wanted to leave, they could trailer their houses away. There are beautiful tiny homes. Of course there would need to be an approval committee, but it could be beautiful, and have green areas to share. Just a thought.

    • An idea definitely worth exploring. isn’t that how the Camp Ground basically got started?
      The challenge would be infrastructre: power, water, waste management.
      Probably soluble, however.

      • No, the challenge would be that no one wants to live next door to affordable housing at all, let alone affordable housing that may actually look affordable.

  4. I consider a barometer of a healthy community is guaranteeing quality education for the young. What kind of teachers are expected when they must concern every late every summer with housing for nine months, then three someplace else during recess? Seems more like the job security of a substitute teacher.

  5. “This is someone who has a master’s degree on-Island and can’t find dependable housing.”
    Didn’t realize that educational levels were criteria for housing.
    That’s going to leave a whole lot of good people on the sidewalk.

  6. Vote NO !

    All attempts to build “affordable housing” just make the situation worse. The current homeowners property taxes are already high and will continue to rise if we are forced to subsidize new housing construction. There are all sorts of unintended costs which derive from creating housing outside normal marker forces.

    The Vineyard has a seasonal economy – it’s called tourism. It’s the attempt by too many business owners and people who want to live and work on the Island year round – despite the lack of a year round economy – that has led to a “housing crisis”.

    There simply is no crisis – if a person can’t afford to pay whatever the market rates are for housing they shouldn’t expect others to provide housing for them.

    Any attempts to build housing so people can “afford” to live here are misguided. There is no right to live on Martha’s Vineyard or anywhere else in the world. If you can find a way to make it work financially – great. If not – there are lots of other great places to live in the world.

    If workers feel it is in their financial interest to commute to the Vineyard for higher wages on the Island than are paid on the Cape – that’s great. If not – please don’t expect others to build those workers housing. People commute to where the jobs are in every part of the country.

  7. Keeping the Vineyard “as we know it ” would be that housing is really hard to get and only those who work really hard will find a way to stay here. Isn’t that a good thing?

    • Working really hard has nothing to do with it. Lots of people work hard and can’t find housing. The people who are wealthy or have financial help will be the only ones to find a way to stay here. That’s not the type of place where I want to live.

  8. I am not in favor of the Housing Bank.
    The “solution” to the housing problem is to allow a few condos to be built in and by each town, in already densely settled areas, that can be *bought* with a mortgage. The only use I can see for the word “bank” in the housing context is that a program might be put in place where qualified buyers can get low-interest mortgages from a participating bank, as was the case with the Mass. State First Home Buyer program. The eternal renter model is not viable for anyone except the very few lucky ones who are subsidized by the public purse and is way too expensive for everyone. Has anyone calculated what percentage Community Preservation Act funds have been gobbled up by Affordable Housing?

  9. “This is someone who has a master’s degree on-Island and can’t find dependable housing.”

    The problem presents all over, not just the Vineyard. It says, “Here are well-educated people who want to teach our children but they can’t afford to live here.”

    The Island responds, “We don’t care how far you have to commute” and “We don’t care if you need public assistance to afford a place to live.”

    Find a way to keep cost of living under control for teachers or they’ll stop coming here after graduation.

    • There are multiple applicants for every teaching position here. Its a ‘manufactured’ crisis. For those who worked, saved, and did what was necessary to purchase a home here, that same old song is getting tired about who is ‘special’ and ‘deserves’ to live here. The ‘advocates’ keep telling us nobody will be serving us food, cutting our grass, enforcing the law or teaching the kids. The reality is there are plenty of applicants for any of these positions. Specifically teachers.

        • No time to read your propaganda that elevates the stature of teachers over anyone else. Not a bad deal to work 9 months of the year, get off at 3pm, get every holiday on the planet off, nice pension, early retirement, medical benefits etc. Gym teachers make the same as math teachers who give tests and grade homework. But either way, teachers are no more important than a doctor, nurse, plumber, electrician or anyone else. Nobody gets forced into any job-if you don’t like it..choose another profession AND there is no shortage of applicants waiting in line for teachers jobs here.. And anyone who wants to work and save can a buy a house without the rest of us subsidizing them..which is the point of this article.

          • Did you know teachers create lesson plans at home, check homework and tests at home, all on their own time, all unpaid? I’m not going to attempt an explanation why some pursue teaching careers; most will be grateful but for some reason not you. That was a link to the Wall Street Journal, an outfit that values education more than you do.

            I could

            Let’s say a teacher has a couple hundred students. I’ll pick a unit of time at random, ridiculously low. Let’s say 5 minutes a student to mark homework or a test. There goes a . That’s a link to the Wall Street Journal. (WSJ)

            Did you know teachers create lesson plans, and grade both homework and tests at home, all when they’re off the clock?

  10. Vote Yes! Do the research on this topic versus voting with your bias and emotions. Smoke and mirrors this is not. A rigorous governance process will be in place. Have trust in the process. These are real life issues that we as a community must solve. Otherwise, we are not a community. Time to wake up and smell the coffee.

  11. A huge issue is the relative of value of housing on-season versus off-season. There are a huge number of modest houses and guest houses that are empty for 9 months of the year. One reason that they are not rented is that it is not worth the risk of losing summer rentals if your winter tenants have treated the property poorly or won’t leave. If businesses that employ workers or the towns that employ educators would guarantee payment and security, you might get some release of housing stock. Also, would need to force tenants to leave if accordance with lease contracts as opposed to protracted eviction process. It would then be up to the businesses to pay seasonal workers a living wage or provide housing. A far from perfect solution but might close the gap at a small cost.

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